BOSTON -- Red Sox manager John Farrell talked Thursday afternoon about the need to get contributions up and down the lineup and at every position in the field in order to shake the team out of its current slump.
Thursday’s series opener against Cleveland at sold-out Fenway Park offered up a nice example of that team balance. Behind 7 2/3 strong innings from Jon Lester, the Sox picked up a 5-2 win that featured quality at-bats throughout the batting order, multiple solid plays defensively, and perfect relief. It was a nice way to bounce back from a lousy road trip capped by a sluggish showing in Baltimore to begin the week.
Here is some of what we saw along the way.
Set the tone: Perhaps angered by the results of his last outing (five runs on 12 hits and NO STRIKEOUTS in 4 1/3 innings at Detroit), Lester came out dealing. He struck out Michael Bourn on three pitches, got Asdrubal Cabrera on a popup and fanned Michael Brantley on three pitches. Eight pitches, eight strikes and a lightning-quick frame that set Lester on his way to his 107th career win, moving him alone into ninth place in Red Sox history.
Indians starter Josh Tomlin wasn’t much worse out of the gate, throwing nine of his 10 pitches in a 1-2-3 bottom half of the frame. It was a bit of a mismatch from that point on.
Yoenis got nuthin’ on Jackie: Much has been made of the two great throws by Oakland’s Yoenis Cespedes in recent days, but both came after he bobbled the ball and gunned down a runner looking to take advantage.
What Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. did to end the top of the seventh was a more complete exhibition of defensive prowess. First, Bradley raced for what seemed like three miles into the left-center field gap to haul in a drive by Bourn on a sprint. He then pushed off the Green Monster at the F.W. Webb sign, spun and in one motion threw a one-hop missile from roughly 350 feet away to double off Mike Aviles at first base.
Now, Aviles probably should not have drifted all the way past second base, from where he was forced to retreat. Then again, maybe he is one of the few who has not been made aware of Bradley’s speed and howitzer in center. He is now, and he’s also one part of a sparkling highlight for Bradley, who also singled, stole a base and scored two times in a solid all-around effort.
There was immediate talk in the press box as to how many Red Sox center fielders in history have made a throw like that, or even had the ability. Hard to say, but this one will have its place in the debate for a long time to come.
It’s a bird! It’s a plane!! It’s a crooked number!!!: They’ve been few and far between of late (a span of 31 innings to be exact), but the Sox put forth a two-spot in the fifth on David Ortiz’s home run to center and another in the sixth when Brock Holt drove in a pair with a double to left.
Nava say Nava: Daniel Nava had his second three-hit game in less than a week and his average has inched up toward the .200 mark. With the way the Red Sox offense has produced this year, Nava is doing all he can to solidify a more permanent role going forward. Shane Victorino may return soon from a hamstring strain and a move will be necessary. Nava hopes that he is not the roster casualty again, and his 9-for-22 surge should help his cause.
Don’t forget about me: Grady Sizemore is also fighting for time (and possibly a roster spot) in the muddled outfield picture along with Bradley, Nava and Jonny Gomes. Although he had two strikeouts in the game, it was Sizemore’s deep double to right that drove in the first run of the night in the second, and his awkward but athletic catch against the short wall down the right-field line to end the fifth that stood out.
When it rains it pours: Every last resident of Boston knows of their baseball team’s offensive struggles, and every last one of them is aware of Dustin Pedroia’s somewhat lackluster showing so far. His at-bat in the third inning was emblematic of a frustrating campaign, as Pedroia first launched a long drive to left that missed being a home run by a few feet and then followed with a hard smash the other way. This one was fair, but it went straight into the glove of first baseman Carlos Santana, who then stepped on the bag to double off Holt.
Pedroia had a prime RBI chance in the fifth when he came up with a runner on third and one out but was unable to get him in with a chopper to third. A difficult night at the plate for Pedroia, who is 2-for-17 over a five-game stretch and is close to dropping his career average below .300. Not that his career is anywhere near over, but it is a bit notable -- he was a .302 lifetime hitter entering the season.
Everyone but Dustin: Pedroia’s struggles stood out even more given the lineup’s balance that Farrell so desires. Seven of the other eight starters had at least one hit, and the eighth -- David Ross -- was the only player in the game to draw two walks.
Up next: The Sox get another crack at old pal Justin Masterson, who dominated them in Cleveland on June 2, in the second game of the series Friday night. John Lackey, the tough-luck loser opposite Masterson that night, goes for Boston.